The 196 parties of the UNFCCC are coming together next week with the aim of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will likely keep global warming below 2˚C.  Check out my last blog post on COP21 for more information.

There has been a lot of talk about emissions reduction targets recently, but what are they and why are they important?

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The Hazelwood power station in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley is one of Australia’s many power suppliers that produce greenhouse gas emissions and was once the most polluting power station in the developed world.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The emissions refer to Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Greenhouse gases are atmospheric gases, including carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane and nitrous oxide, which are capable of absorbing infrared radiation and thus trapping heat within the atmosphere.

There are many sources of greenhouse gas emissions, both natural and human-made. Naturally, greenhouse gases are regularly produced by plant and animal respiration, microbial decay of organic matter and volcanic eruptions.

Since the industrial revolution of the 1850s humans have created a large increase in greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). Other anthropogenic emissions come from deforestation, land use changes and agriculture.

Emission Reduction Targets

The governments of nations worldwide are setting emission reduction targets to indicate the amount of greenhouse gas pollution their nations will reduce in the next 15 years. These targets are a reduction of emissions based on an emission value reached in a previous year (the baseline year).

The emission reduction targets are important as they represent the commitment individual nations are making to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately tackle climate change. By combining the emission reduction targets of all nations, we get an idea of whether or not the world is on track towards limiting global warming at 2˚C.

The Baseline Year

A baseline year is a reference point in time against which future emission reductions are measured. The emission targets are heavily sensitive to the baseline year.

For example, if Australia has an emission reduction target of 13% of 2005 levels by 2020 this would equate to 5% reduction target of 2000 levels or 8% of 2010 levels because 2005 was a very high year for Australian emissions.

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Comparing Australia’s 2020 target to different baseline years

Global Emission Reduction Targets

Now that you understand how the emission reduction targets are proposed, here are a few of the emissions targets for COP21 as released by the nations themselves:

Region Post-2020 Target
Australia 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030
 

China

Peak CO2 emissions around 2030

Cut CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 60 to 65 per cent from 2005 level

United States 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025
European Union 40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels
Russia 70 to 75 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030

Many of the high emitting nations plan to reduce their emissions through a combination of renewable and low-carbon energy resources, land-use changes or carbon offset programs. Australia’s plan to reduce emissions is to be implemented through Australia’s Emissions Reduction Fund, a program which will pay businesses and households to reduce emissions. Along with this fund Australia also has a Renewable Energy Target which stipulates 23% of electricity should come from renewable sources by 2020.

The updated emission target goals  for all nations participating in COP21 can be found here and the official documents are here.